We got the chaos that was expected!
A big break went up the road early in the day but they were never given too much leeway, with the gap only peaking at 5’30. Movistar set a fierce pace on the first categorised climb of the day and reduced the peloton drastically but things regrouped on the descent and the valley roads. However, on the penultimate climb it exploded with a strong quartet of GC riders escaping the rest; De La Cruz, Ion Izaggire, Roglic and Landa. The first of that list lost contact on the descent though (not sure what happened) so we were left with three. They linked up with some team-mates who were in the break and eventually caught the last remaining rider up ahead on the descent of the final climb. It was kept all together and morning breakee Omar Fraile sprinted to the win!
Nice to see him win after me backing him on stages 2 and 3 but not today…Roglic finished second and picked up some more bonus seconds (not that he needs it) with Izagirre coming home third.
The Slovenian now has an even more commanding GC lead so it will be interesting to see how teams approach tomorrow’s stage. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.
A short but very intense stage with 2800m of climbing over only 122kms.
Right from the gun the road rises and over the first 40kms there is hardly any flat road to speak of, with the riders facing 4 categorised climbs. They aren’t overly difficult if taken individually but it is the constant climbing that will leave the riders with very little respite; especially as I imagine they will be attacked very hard at the start of the day.
There is then a little lull for 20kms before the next climb which is tough, 4.1lm at 7%, but it comes slap in the middle of the stage and will be pretty ineffectual as to the outcome of the stage. Another “lull” of 20kms follows before things kick off again in the closing 40km.
The Ixua is a climb that typifies the Basque Country; not too long but very steep. At almost 5km long, it averages a leg breaking 8.6%, with the last 4km an even more excruciating 9.7%. If the racing earlier in the day is incredibly aggressive, we could see a lot of riders go pop here.
Once over the top the riders will descend for 8km or so, passing through the second intermediate sprint of the day. Could the bonus seconds here be important at the end of the week? The road then rises again but at a much more gentle incline; 4.4% for 5.6kms. It is a climb though that we could see some surprises on, especially if the Ixua has been climbed at a fast tempo. Someone hanging on then, will be really hanging on here due to the lack of time to recover in between efforts.
There are 12kms from the crest of the penultimate climb until the beginning of the last ascent of the day and boy, is it a cracker!
A favourite climb of the organisers, it has been used quite a lot in the past and featured as the finale in the penultimate stage last year. With it being the last place in the race that any difference can me made, expect fireworks from whoever is left at the head of the peloton and some fairly significant time gaps between the GC contenders.
The road plateaus for 2kms after the steepest section, before it plunges down just under the Flamme Rouge. It is a fast run to the line and positioning around the final few corners is incredibly important if you want to win the stage. If you’re at the front then, you will be hard to beat!
How will the race pan out?
Unless something terrible happens to Roglic, he has the GC title sewn up. If he had looked in difficulty at some point today then those near to him in the order might have sensed blood and went manic tomorrow. However, he looked effortless on the climbs and never seemed in too much trouble. Even if he gets dropped on the final climb (I can’t see him falling behind anywhere else) then he will only lose 20 seconds or so. There is only one rider who can drop him on the actual climb as well: Landa. Will Movistar chase all day to try to set him up? I don’t know…
I actually think a strong break has a good chance at staying away but as I’ve said, it all depends on Movistar. If they bring it back, Landa wins.
However, having just that as a preview is no fun so it looks like we’re playing everyone’s favourite game for one last time in Pais Vasco.
A Basque rider who loves the steep slopes, it is a surprise that we have not seen him in the breakaway so far. Going into the final stage he sits in 20th place at just over 7 minutes down on Roglic so he is no real threat to the Slovenian’s jersey. He’s not won a race in a few years now, but he always seems to go well in his home country. Could he pull off something special in front of his local fans?
It was Latour in the break for Ag2r today so I imagine they will try to get Vuillermoz up the road tomorrow, especially with Bardet slipping even further down the classification. The route looks good for the Frenchman and he has shown in the past his credentials with hilly one-day races that are similar to what we have tomorrow. The wall of a finish will be seen as a challenge to him – he has finished 6th at Fleche Wallonne before after all. Hopefully we’ll see his trademark goldfish breathing technique at the head of affairs tomorrow.
If I’m honest, I didn’t even know Costa was at this race until I saw the rainbow bands on the UAE jersey climbing third wheel up the first climb of the day. He withdrew from Paris Nice due to illness but slowly seems to be riding his way into form here. Sitting 15th on GC and 5:45 down on Roglic, he is on the borderline of being given some freedom in any breakaway. If he does get up the road though, it might tip the balance for the stage win in favour of the GC guys, it just depends on who wants to chase and possibly protect their 9th place etc. Let’s hope that negative style of racing doesn’t happen!
He’s done sod all so far this season which is odd for him as he would normally at least have had one hit out, even if it was in vain. Maybe his day is tomorrow? Maybe we’ll be saying that for the next few months? The steep gradients of the final climb aren’t ideal for him but he has surprised me in the past and I’m sure he will surprise me again in the future. Riders will be concerned about him if he does get in the break. An attack on the penultimate climb and riding solo up the Alto de Arrate would give him his best chance!
The non-existent Rui Costa to remind everyone that he is actually at this race by taking home a stage win after being in the break.
No bet, probably.
Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will a group of escapees manage to make it to the line or will the GC contenders fight it out for stage honours? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.